By TMoM Team Member, Ashley Quinn Kibby

My daughter just told me to “go away.” Calmly and slowly, then once more for emphasis. Dead on. Full eye contact.  I’d had the audacity to interrupt her TV viewing to offer a bowl for her granola bar. After unsuccessfully ignoring me, she insisted she didn’t need one, then told me to scram.

Sound like a page from the script of a moody teenager, right? Wrong. My daughter is only two years old. Next month, she and her sister will claim their rightful titles, marked by fierce independence, overstated confidence, and attitude for days. I’ll officially have two threenagers on my hands.

A’s for Attitude!

Threenagers are demanding. They’re impatient. Sometimes, they’re downright impossible. With threenagers, every little decision is an opportunity for bargaining. In the morning, they insist on wearing a summer dress on a fifty-degree day. At preschool pick-up, they refuse to get in the car. At lunch, they want their sandwich cut in triangles, not squares! And tomorrow? You guessed it, squares not triangles!

Ironically, the origins of the afflicted threenager are positive in nature. They’ve recently acquired many new skills and confidence! Now they can climb most structures, walk (or run) increasing distances, and put on their own clothes. They know their letters and the lyrics to Encanto. Most significantly, they’re learning about their power to affect outcomes.

Unfortunately for all involved, they haven’t learned how to assert their will effectively. Threenagerhood is the testing ground for this process and its rife with trial and error. (For child and parent!) So, how can we reduce the struggle, and help our threenagers thrive?

Tip 1: Rise to the Challenge, then Raise It!

We’ve all heard that children act out when they’re not challenged. Consider whether this could be the case for your rapidly developing threenager. Believe it or not, they may be able do a lot of things that they couldn’t just a few weeks ago. Whether they’re standing on a stool to reach something high, raiding the pantry for snacks, or trying to help you cook dinner, allow them the opportunity to stretch and grow. It’s amazing how much friction can be reduced when you don’t say “no”.

Tip 2: Wait a Minute! Patience is a Virtue.

Patience is also a skill. Skills require practice. Help your threenager cultivate this ability by teaching them to wait. When they interrupt your dinner conversation, let them know you’re excited to talk to them after you’ve finished. Long line at the restaurant? Settle in for a game of “I spy” or discuss the meal you’re looking forward to. The more experience your threenager has with delayed gratification, the more comfortable they’ll feel in these scenarios.

Tip 3: Create a Feelings-First Environment.

Threenagers can really test their parents, particularly when they’re not listening, running away from you, or otherwise disrupting the peace. Instead of losing your cool, demonstrate healthy communication by naming your feelings and setting boundaries. “When you yell at me, I feel sad.” Or “Mommy feels frustrated when you don’t follow directions. I need some alone time.” It’s up to you to model the behavior you want to see in them. Communicate clear expectations and follow through to help your threenager understand cause and effect in relationships.

Three Cheers for Threenagers!

All attitude aside, threenagers can be super fun to hang out with! They’re actively developing their personality during this phase and have unique perspectives, ideas, and humor. Now you can watch and discuss your favorite Disney movies together. Or make a hummus taco face for lunch — cucumbers for eyes, matchstick carrots for hair. How about some acro yoga airplanes or a dance party? You can even combine family time with your workout!

Through it all, keep in mind that learning to wait, accept challenges, and communicate feelings is hard — even for grown-ups! When your threenager shows signs of frustration, help them name the emotion and empathize with the feeling. Most of all, remember that threenagers are not teenagers. They’re new little humans doing the best they can, with what they’ve got. That deserves three cheers, and a great big hug!

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